Time's Fool

By Alys Earl

A novel for M R James fans who sometimes want something a little more modern and edgy from their weird fiction

Monday, 10 October 2016

Meeting Steven

So, as promised, I've uploaded a little performance. The whole thing can be read here although a transcript of the reading can be found below. It introduces us a little more to Steven in a context where he is not being a deliberately irritating know-it-all.

Steven is - at the opening of the novel - 20 years old and beginning his final year of a BA in English Literature. He lives with Lucy in a small flat above a shop in the centre of Barchester. He works part time in Patroclus Sound and Vision - an independent film and music shop which caters mostly to the city's alternative crowd.

As a piece of trivia, Ray - film enthusiast and owner of Patroclus - is very flattered by the assessment Steven gives of his age in this extract.



Transcript of extract:

Steven lounged on his bed, drinking wine and only half watching the credits roll. All around him leered the red eyed, blood-stained faces of the undead. They glared from posters, DVD boxes and from behind the clear plastic packaging which contained articulated toys of the kind collected by children and the obsessed. Every other available space and surface was covered with books, DVDs, videos, more books, and the occasional empty coffee cup. The film that was playing was Hammer's 1958 take on Dracula.

Just seeing Kensington gore splash a coffin lid kindled in Steven a warm and familiar glee. He loved them all, the dark, suspense filled yarns, the Technicolor gore-fests. Adored the gloating, fascinating villains, the gloriously anachronistic sets, the occasional, inexplicable armadillo. Of course, he had his standards - if it were shot on a shoestring budget, that was good. If it were made before 1979, better still. And if it had vampires in it, well, that was just perfect. The gods of his private pantheon were Lugosi, Cushing and, above all, Lee.

The Dracula tonight was a bit of a tradition. He had watched it every Hallowe'en since he had seen it on a black-and white television set during a sleepover at Lucy's house. The next day he had walked into town with all his saved up pocket money and bought a copy from a second hand video store. He had not been able to watch it for three weeks, not until his parents had gone out and left him alone in the house. It had lain in wait, almost burning a hole in the mattress under which it had been hidden. If anything, it was even better the second time around.

But tonight the sound track was muted and he looked at the cheap digital camera on his bedside table as often as at the screen.

That house was supposed to have been empty.

It should have been empty for a very long time.

In the two years he had lived in Barchester he had never seen any sign it was inhabited. No-one he had spoken to could remember when someone had last lived there. It was Ray, his boss, who had told him how, when he was a kid, everyone had said the place was haunted.

“So, no-one has lived there for, what, twenty years?”

Ray had shrugged and continued to stick '3 for £20' stickers on some of the DVDs, “Guess so. Wouldn't credit the ghost story, though. That's just something kids say. Tax reasons, more likely.”

And Steven had nodded, inclined to agree.

When he had checked at the library, though, he had found there was a ghost story attached to the place. Not much of one - something about mysterious deaths, a young man going mad - but enough to convince him it was ripe for a bit of exploration.

He remembered the blind panic at the footsteps, and pulling out the camera, blindly hitting record. He had heard Lucy take a step towards him, had wondered if he were more afraid that this was a ghost, or the owner of the house.

In his room, he hit play. On the camera's tiny screen, he saw the indistinct movement of a small, dark shape in the gloom.

He remembered time stretching, how only the growl of traffic had made him sure he had not gone deaf, had not been deafened by the roaring in his ears.

They shouldn't even have been able to break in. That they had got that far was just a testament to John's excessive stubbornness. It was the sort of dare that never got carried out.

Still, just because he believed nothing would come of it did not mean that he had skimped on the research. He had even done a bit of snooping around the property in preparation for this evening. Yes, someone clearly looked in occasionally, but there had been no signs of life.

That man - Julian - should not have been there. Besides, it was Hallowe'en, for goodness sake. Who cared what rubbish he fed John? Steven drew the line at such mystical nonsense.

He paused the clip, restarted it. Darkness, movement. A mumble of sound. Sudden light. He felt something in his stomach pulse, urgent and acidic. Not even the grainy footage could obscure that slim, dark form, and from that, it was only a step of memory to recall a Beardsley pen-sketch face. And the presence of the man, the kind one associated with martial arts experts, or an actor who could stand upstage right and never say a word, and still command the entire theatre.

Steven played the footage again, trying to turn the volume up, but any sound remained as indistinct as music from a passing car.

That voice...

But the voice had been wrong, too.

It was the kind one heard in radio dramas in the role of an Oxbridge professor or an amateur sleuth; a voice actor's voice, the sound of someone a little too worn, a little too fat to land a television role. Of course it was lovely, but coming from that slim, pale, pretty man...

No. You do not do this.

He watched the snippet once again, and his memory rushed to supply the flawless white skin, the delicate, wanton mouth. That was the worst of it, the way his own lips, his words had become clumsy. Steven took another mouthful of wine, as if to swallow that sense of indefinable mortification.

And fear.

Because Steven had seen men look at Lucy in that way, with that same chill, focused desire. It had snatched his breath, left him gasping. He reached to press play once again...


With his index finger, he stabbed the button, Delete.

Yes, he thought, I'm sure.

He put the camera down and drained his glass. It was probable that he would never see Julian again.

On screen, in Dracula's library, Christopher Lee's portrayal of the Count bared glistening fangs. Alone in his room, Steven restored the sound, crossed arms over his chest, and lay back to watch the film.

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